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Fourth Circuit remands Baltimore’s climate damage claims against oil companies to state court

After suing several major gas and oil companies in 2018, Baltimore appealed the Supreme Court's decision to move their case to federal courts, as the imputed damages only pertain within the city's limits.

BALTIMORE (CN) — The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that Baltimore's state law claims of climate change damages against several oil and gas companies don't belong in federal court.

The city's appeal brought the case back before a three-panel of circuit judges for a second time, on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the oil companies in 2021 that lawsuits against them belonged in federal court.

Due to the climate damages described in the lawsuit only pertaining to Baltimore, the case will be remanded back to the state court as ruled by Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker, a Barack Obama appointee, Judge Roger Gregory and Senior Judge Henry Floyd, both of whom are George W. Bush appointees.

"The impacts of climate change undoubtably have local, national, and international ramifications. But those consequences do not necessarily confer jurisdiction upon federal courts carte blanche," wrote Judge Floyd in the order.

"In this case, a municipality has decided to exclusively rely upon state-law claims to remedy its own climate-change injuries, which it perceives were caused, at least in part, by Defendants’ fossil-fuel products and strategic misinformation campaign. These claims do not belong in federal court," the order stated.

According to the order, representatives for the 26 multinational oil companies could not identify what federal law claim is at Baltimore's disposal and what their defense to it would be during oral arguments.

The order further states that the defendants' argument fails to explain a significant conflict between Maryland law and the their purported federal interests.

Baltimore initiated the case in 2018 in an effort to hold oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron accountable for costs associated with climate change resulting from their fossil-fuel products and marketing campaigns.

The city argued that because Baltimore is a port city, it is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and that other environmental events have purportedly caused "infrastructure damage during floods, automobile accidents and power outages when winter storms hit, and public-health illnesses amid heat waves."

Their lawsuit further asserted that the defendants deceived consumers and the public for almost fifty years about the dangerous climate change effects associated with their fossil-fuel products.

Chevron, Exxon Mobil and BP moved their suit to a federal court in Maryland, using their federal leases for oil production as justification and claimed the city was seeking to hold them accountable based on their actions as federal officers.

Allowing the oil companies to move their lawsuit into the federal system could allow energy giants in other climate damages cases around the country to have greater control in climate litigation.

When a federal judge disagreed to this decision, the case was remanded to state court. The oil giants appealed the remand, but the Fourth Circuit ruled in Baltimore's favor to keep the case in state court.

The Fourth Circuit was instructed to reconsider their ruling, as it was too narrow according to Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

"Given the jurisdictional inquiry before us, we take no view on whether Baltimore will ultimately fail or succeed in proving its claims under Maryland law. We cannot decide those questions. But we are confident that Maryland courts can capably adjudicate claims arising under their own laws that fail to otherwise provide any federal jurisdiction," wrote Judge Floyd in Thursday's order.

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